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Medieval Carlisle: The City and the Borders from the Late Eleventh to the Mid-Sixteenth Century, 2 vols.

By Henry R. Summerson. (Kendal, England: The Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra ser. 25. 1993. Pp. xxiii, 817. 48.00. [pounds sterling])

Henry Summerson's meticulously researched book is a boon indeed to those of us distant from the archives who have been frustrated by the dearth of modern scholarship on Carlisle and the borders. Comprehensive, authoritative, well-illustrated, and a genuine pleasure to read, the author traces the city's evolution from a remote Cumbrian garrison to a flourishing mid-sixteenth-century regional metropolis. While he is occasionally repetitious, Summerson's argument is balanced as well as cogent and based on a phenomenal grasp of relevant sources. Those interested in cultural, economic, literary, material, religious, and political topics touching Carlisle and the borders from 1092-1561 will find this study a most welcome addition to their libraries.

Summerson divides his analysis chronologically into seven chapters: 1) Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Scottish Carlisle: 1092-1157; 2) Royal Government and Self-Government: 1157-1237; 3) Slow Growth and Fragile Prosperity: 1237-1292; 4) Fire, Sword, and Pestilence: 12921349; 5) Survival Amid the Whirlwinds of War: 1349-91; 6) Civil Wars and Civic Developments: 1391-1461; and 7) Continuing City: Carlisle 1461-1561. In these, beginning with an overview of this polyglot outblock of ancient Strathclyde before William Rufus' push north to the Solway, he details Carlisle's metamorphosis from a remote Scottish appanage to a thriving post-reformation cathedral city. Each chapter dissects the interplay of significant forces in its era, thematically clarifying specific behaviors and their consequences. In addition, the author occasionally corrects such misapprehensions as the attribution by the late seventeenth-century antiquarian Hugh Todd, of Civil War damage to the 1391 fire, from which he argued Carlisle "was never able to recover" (393).

Summerson laid the groundwork for this study between 1979 and 1988, while serving as project historian on the archaeological team which excavated Carlisle's "Lanes" area for clues to early settlement patterns. When "medieval strata [proved to have] been largely or wholly destroyed by later cellaring" at many sites, he turned instead for data to multidisciplinary analysis of extant documents (xvii). Since few locally archived deeds and charters survived the fires, wars, and pillage that ravaged the border well into the sixteenth century and municipal records for the period were equally sparse, unearthing reliable on-site information about medieval Cumbrians' beliefs, institutions, and lifestyles proved extraordinarily difficult. Where archaeological and documentary evidence in Carlisle were lacking or silent, he consulted the Exchequer Pipe Rolls and an exhaustive array of other Public Record Office classes of records for data, buttressing the information gleaned from these documents with a formidable list of primary and secondary materials. In the process, he resisted ideological model-making and relied instead on the historical record, letting the participants speak for themselves whenever possible. The result is a sense of immediacy and credibility unusual in a work of this magnitude. This book is an important complement to other recent studies of Carlisle which those who are interested in examining the intersection of church and royal prerogative will find especially useful.
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Author:Coakley, Jean A.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1996
Words:499
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